George Brandis - photo: Alex Ellinghausen

George Brandis - photo: Alex Ellinghausen

While it is perhaps unsurprising, the Attorney-General's latest attempt to use the Sydney siege and recent events in France as justifications for the government's mandatory data retention laws is as distasteful as it is misleading.

It's difficult to know whether he is being deliberately disingenuous or whether his understanding of the detail of what he is proposing has not advanced significantly since his spectacular failure to explain it to Sky News presenter David Speers in August last year.

The problem with citing France and Sydney as examples, apart from leveraging a number of tragic deaths for political gain, is that they are in fact fairly strong cases of why mandatory data retention may not be the critical necessity he asserts it to be.

Two other recent "acts of terror" similarly point to the same conclusion, namely the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013 and the brutal murder of Lee Rigby in London the following month. In each of these four recent examples, the perpetrators were well-known to police and intelligence agencies. The Attorney-General quotes former ASIO chief David Irvine as saying that access to metadata is "absolutely crucial" in identifying terrorist networks. As these examples clearly show, identifying the perpetrators was not the problem.

In each case, it was rather decisions taken to not commence, or to cease, close surveillance of these individuals that arguably contributed to the failures of law-enforcement and intelligence agencies to prevent each attack. That's not to criticise with the benefit of hindsight – I'm sure in each case the relevant decision was entirely logical and taken based on a number of factors, presumably largely due to the need to prioritise the application of finite resources.

This opinion piece, by Jon Lawrence was originally published in The Age on 12th January 2015. See the full article here.

1 comment

  1. Great opinion piece, read the original in The Age. Thank you for articulating this so well. Its a shame there's not more of an outcry about what they are trying to do, but the general population are largely indifferent to these kinds of issues unless it has a direct effect on them personally.

    Comment by Corey on 20 January 2015 at 22:35